Words by Bridget Foster.
Actually Mayor Bob Buckhorn was part of a land, sea and air exercise held this week during the 2014 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, Florida that highlighted the tactical capabilities of 16 international special operations forces. In the exercise, Mayor Buckhorn was “captured” as a prisoner and “rescued” by the special operations forces.
The exercise provided the thousands of spectators a first-hand view of how elite soldiers collaboratively use rigid hull inflatable boats, Blackhawk and Little Bird helicopters and firearms to affect an assault and rescue. The participants included Navy SEALs, Army rangers, members of several international special ops teams, parachutists, and even snipers poised on the roof of the hospital near the waterfront exhibition. The sixteen countries that participated in the exercise included Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Jordan, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Thailand and the US.
SOFIC is an annual event sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association in partnership with the acquisitions branch of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). It provides an opportunity for contractors and suppliers of the sophisticated equipment used by special ops teams to show off the latest trends in weaponry and tools to over 80 countries in one place. The exhibit hall at the Convention Center was filled with models of helicopters, drones, tactical wear, robotics, full-sized vehicles, simulators, and other tactical items designed specifically for the special ops community.
Tampa was the site of two simultaneous conferences this week, both focused on special operations forces. The International Special Operations Forces Conference (ISOFC) also took place at the Tampa Convention Center. It was hosted by U.S. Special Operations Command which is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, located in Tampa. This is the fourth year for the conference, which was last held in 2012.
Walking around the convention center, I saw special ops members from the United Arab Emirates Presidential Guard, Egypt and Guyana. The Guyanese soldiers caught my eye because their uniforms had a unique camouflage pattern that contrasted sharply against the uniforms of the US Army soldiers they were walking with. The Guyanese soldiers graciously granted my request for a photo. (I have chosen to hide their name badges and eyes as I did not ask for their names.)
The ISOFC provided SOCOM executives the opportunity to share with the suppliers and contractors their technology “wish lists” as well as provide feedback on the effectiveness of the equipment and material currently being utilized in the field. The focus was also on building relationships between the international special ops community, with open forums and networking events throughout the convention center. USSOCOM commander Admiral William H. McRaven opened the conference and also was the discussion leader at one of the most popularly-attended forums.
The week of events kicked off on Saturday May 18 with a Special Operator’s Challenge held at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office shooting range. Twelve special ops participants competed in running an obstacle course then grabbing a weapon and shooting at paper targets. They also provided some shooting tips to the event registrants, which was free for veterans and law enforcement personnel.